Don't operate your catering truck without a license, or your local health department will shut you down. Unlicensed food truck operators in some cities also face fines and jail time, and can even have their property confiscated. If you have an established brand with hard-earned name recognition, being caught operating an unlicensed catering truck can hurt your reputation by generating negative publicity. Punitive measures vary by situation and location, but at the very least you'll be told to close until you obtain the proper permits.

Correcting Violations

The purpose of health department licensing is to protect public health, so the repercussions of being caught without a license are less severe if your operation is compliant in other ways, such as keeping cold food cold, hot food hot, and avoiding bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food. The health inspector who shuts you down for operating without a license will file a report with his department providing details of his visit. The more violations a health inspector cites, the more closely you will be scrutinized during the follow-up inspection after you apply for a license.

Public Records

Health department inspection reports are public records, and many local health departments make them available online for concerned consumers. Even if you correct the situation and obtain a license after you are shut down, the record of your earlier noncompliance will still be available for anyone who cares to research it. It may be discovered in the future by potential customers and also by festival organizers, who may take it into consideration when deciding whether or not to invite you to vend at an event.

Bad Press

Because health inspection reports are available online, reporters have access to them as well. These inspection reports may cross a reporter's radar as he researches a general story, such as total number of catering truck shutdowns in recent years. Although such a story may not be specifically about your business, it will nonetheless impact you negatively to be mentioned in this context. If your business is well known for another endeavor like a restaurant, your shutdown may be especially newsworthy and a reporter may devote an entire article to the incident.

Health Inspector Relationships

Like many other aspects of your business, your dealings with the health department are based on relationships that develop over time. If you are shut down once for operating without a license and remedy the situation quickly and diligently, you may still be able to build a strong and productive working relationship with your local health inspector. When you continue operating without a license even after you have been shut down, you develop a reputation as a rule breaker and health inspectors enforce the strictest penalties they are allowed.